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Leeser calls out No campaign attacks on high-profile Indigenous Yes campaigners

Callan Morse -

Coalition MP and former shadow minister for Indigenous Australians Julian Leeser has condemned anti-Voice campaigners, accusing the "no" camp of strategically attacking high-profile Indigenous Australians who are in support of the Indigenous Voice to parliament.

Speaking in Wagga Wagga on Monday, Mr Leeser criticised the no campaign's attempt to "target a small number of high-profile Aboriginal people" including prominent yes campaigner, referendum working group member and Uluru Statement from the Heart ambassador Thomas Mayo.

"The referendum is about a technical change to the constitution. It's not about any person," Mr Leeser said.

Mr Leeser, who resigned from the opposition frontbench following the Liberal party formalising their opposition to the Voice, said the no campaign have focused their campaign around Mr Mayo to encourage voters to consider the perspectives of an individual rather than the question being asked on referendum day.

"Thomas Mayo is central to the no campaign because Thomas Mayo is being made a trope for the 'angry Aboriginal man' who wants to tear down the country." Mr Leeser said.

"The spliced videos of the no case using Thomas Mayo's words are meant to get you angry, and get you voting against a person, even though this person is not on the ballot paper."

Comments made by Mr Mayo including his view that the Voice would be "a Black political force to be reckoned with" and that politicians who ignored the Voice would "do so at their peril" have been used by no campaigners to denigrate Mr Mayo's credibility and pour cold water on the yes campaign.

Speaking to Guardian Australia, Mr Mayo said he remained unconcerned about the personal attacks from members of the no campaign, saying he would not shy away from continuing to campaign for the Voice.

"I've been working on this for six years now, dedicating every day of my life for six years to achieving this change," Mr Mayo said.

"I know it's important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to my family, to my children, to my neighbours and friends … That makes me strong, that makes me determined. It's my own sense of fairness that drives me."

Mr Mayo, a proud Kaurareg Aboriginal and Kalkalgal, Erubamle Torres Strait Islander man, is maintaining a nationwide travel schedule to campaign ahead of the referendum.

He was recently mocked in an unsavoury cartoon where he was depicted as appearing to dance for money from Wesfarmers managing director Michael Chaney. The ad, authorised and placed conservative campaign group Advance Australia, was condemned as racist by politicians across the political divide.

In response, an Advance spokesperson described critics of the ad as "the yes campaign elites playing the race card straight off the top of the deck".

After taking a break from his schedule and media appearances after the publication of the ad, Mr Mayo has declined to comment to the attacks however stating he would continue campaigning for the Voice.

"What drives me is my care and compassion for fellow Australians; for people doing it hard, that are marginalised, that are suffering," he told Guardian Australia.

"I know many Australians are doing it hard today with the way our economy is, but Australians are fair, we're resilient, we're capable of reaching a hand out to people who need it."

However, Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney was more direct, praising Mr Mayo for his "leading role" in the yes campaign whilst criticising the "the rubbish he's had to put up with, including that disgusting cartoon in the Financial Review".

"In front of everyone, Thomas, I wanted to make that point and pay my respect to you," Ms Burney said at the Yule River bush meeting in Western Australia's Pilbara on Friday.

The minister also took the opportunity to call for "balanced" reporting on the referendum ahead of the announcement of the Yes and No Voice pamphlets, which were revealed on Tuesday.

"Where there is misinformation and disinformation, that has to be called out," she said. "In this referendum campaign, there is no place for targeting of individuals," Ms Burney said.


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